3 Reasons Why Hacking Your Way to Success Is a Sure Way to Fail

hacking-sqI love quick wins.

Uncovering small actions that lead to massive, disproportionate results? Making seemingly minor adjustments that lead to massive transformations? Yeah, I’m all over that.

But somewhere along the line, the quest for quick wins got all twisted up.

Somewhere, somehow, we stopped focusing on making high-value, high-return, intentional changes and started trying to hack our way through our every day lives:

  • Can’t get up in the mornings? Hack your sleep cycle!
  • Product not selling as well as you might like? Hack your autoresponder sequence.
  • Can’t focus on doing the work that needs doing? Use this meditation brain hack!
  • Find yourself with too much month and not enough money? Hack your bank!

Okay, that last one is a bit of a hyperbole. But at the same time, it makes the ridiculousness of the other three stand out all the more. And it really draws attention to one, simple question:

Is hacking our way to success really the way to get what we want?

For me, the answer is a resounding no. I want way more – for me, for you and for your business and customers – than hacking the system can ever provide.

Here’s why.

Hacks Give A False Sense of Progress

I posted a few months back about how excited I was that I was finally able to touch my toes.

Turns out that the problem wasn’t my flexibility or fitness levels at all! I just needed to do 3 minutes of stretches and boom:

Achievement Earned! Touch your Toes

And when that happens, it becomes easy to forget that touching my toes wasn’t actually the goal.

The real goal was to have a healthy, fit body. My inability to touch my toes was a symptom of that problem. But did hacking my biomechanics mean that all of a sudden I was healthy and fit?

Of course not. In fact, I hadn’t actually improved my flexibility, health or fitness at all.

But it felt like I had. It felt like I had made enormous progress.

And so I patted myself on the back, and started looking for the next thing I could hack. Could I hack push-ups? Pull-ups? Maybe the problem with my squats wasn’t related to my strength and flexibility, but could be fixed if only I found the right blog post, the right article, the right video … the right hack.

See, hacks don’t work over the long haul. They offer promises of quick results, fast transformations, and instant gratification, like a bad late-night infomercial.

(Sound like any sales pages you’ve read – or maybe written – lately? That’s a hack mindset in and of itself: make quick-win promises in your copy, and you’ll be able to hack your way to success and sales!)

In fact, hacks are counterproductive to making the deep, lasting impact that matters, because they teach us to focus on tactics instead of on underlying systems and strategies. Hacks promise a fast track to success, delivering short-sighted results that aren’t indicative of real progress, and keeping us from doing the things that result in deep, lasting, sustainable value.

Hacks Keep Us Thinking Small

One of my favourite board games of all time is a co-operative game called Robinson Crusoe. If you’re not familiar with the game, the premise is fairly straightforward:

You need to survive the island long enough to be rescued. There aren’t nearly enough resources or hours in the day to do everything you could possibly need to (never mind the big bad beasts out to get you!) so you have to make decisions about what to prioritize, and what to leave to fate.

Ready to play! Robinson Crusoe board game.

Now, one of the things you have the opportunity to do in the game is to find a shortcut. This shortcut lets you gather extra resources (food, fur, wood, etc.) at no extra cost to you. Bingo! It’s the perfect way to hack the game.

There’s only one problem.

The more time you spend trying to get that shortcut, the less time you have to do everything else. It’s a great way to get where you’re going, but if you focus on it too much, you’ll lose sight of the bigger picture and end up dead.

This is the way that hacks work in general. If you’re not careful, you can get so caught up in the hack that you completely miss the bigger picture.

When you focus on hacks, instead of taking the long view and planning for your next move, and the next move, and the next move after that … you end up consistently behind the eight-ball when it comes to long term success. Every time you look for a specific hack to resolve a specific problem instead of systematically identifying and addressing what’s going on underneath, you’re wasting valuable time and resources.

Where that leaves you is with to do and not enough time left to do it. All that’s left is for you to look for even more shortcuts, tactics and hacks, just like a junkie looking for their next fix.

Not much of a way to build a body of work that matters.

Hacks Hold Us Back From Achieving Mastery

Now, the above reasons are both good examples of how a hack-first mindset can be detrimental.

But the truth is, hacks aren’t always bad.

Sometimes, just getting a fast result is all you want (or need). You don’t need a deep, systemic change that will last you for years … you just need something to get you through the day.

And that’s fine.

What’s not fine, though, is to simply follow the instructions at the expense of mastery.

See, a learning curve is a pretty simple thing; once you start making headway (what a hack helps you to do), your gains come fast and furious. There is so much opportunity ahead of you, so much that you don’t know, and so much to be gained that you can achieve a low level of mastery fairly quickly.

Sigmoid (s-shaped) learning curve

But the more you learn, the harder and harder it gets to really push forward into higher levels of mastery. Hacks simply don’t cut it when you want to stand out for being exceptional. True prestige and recognition come when you dedicate yourself to the craft, and focus on continuously raising the bar.

You don’t get to be a Master Builder by following the instructions, and you don’t become world-class by hacking your way through the easy stuff and never pushing through to mastery.

It’s Time To Fight Back Against the Hack-First Mentality

Look, I get it.

We all want fast results. We all want to rise to the top, achieve our goals, and look like an all-star in the process.

We want to build world-class businesses, garner the respect of our friends and family, and come out ahead at the end of the day. We don’t want to have to stress any more than we have to.

But the hack-first mentality won’t get where you want to go. It’s a quick rise, on the way to a fast fall.

Professionally, I’m tired of watching people try to hack the system.

I’m tired of all the courses, products and programs that offer short-cuts and promises of fast results, but ultimately fail to deliver more than a handful of tactics that don’t lead to deep learning. If you want to style yourself as an educator or trainer, you need to be putting the results of your students first.

That means not looking for the fastest way to put it together, offering up “feel good” worksheets that are more style than substance, and going above and beyond by crafting a remarkable customer experience. It means not making promises you can’t keep, or offering fast fixes to problems that will take a long time to solve.

Ditching the hack-first mentality is the only way to get customers for life, and the only way to do work that matters.

You want to achieve great things?

Focus on doing great work, not on trying the find the latest hack to get you there faster.